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WannaCry, the global ransomware attack. What is it? What can you do?
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Last Friday the world was hit by the aggressive ransomware worm known as WannaCry in what could be the biggest and most widespread extortion scam do date on the internet. As of Monday the 15th of May, an estimated 230,000 computers had been infected by the worm (or malware) in around 150 countries. However those numbers were expected to rise with the start of the working week worldwide. The attack has now sparked an international manhunt for the unknown creators of WannaCry.

Ransomware has been around for some time but it is believed that WannaCry could be the fastest and most pervasive malware of its kind ever seen. Ransomware essentially works by locking a user out of their own computer and holding all their important files hostage, threatening to delete the files or lose control of their computer unless the pay a ransom fee. In the case of WannaCry, it is US$300 to be paid in Bitcoin.

In its limited time WannaCry has already caused chaos in many departments across the world such as hospitals, transport networks & universities with notable victims including the UK National Health Service, FedEx, Spanish telco Telefonica and the Russian Interior Ministry.

Internet security researchers have been quick to act on WannaCry, also known as WannaCrypt and Wanna Decryptor, but are still trying to learn all they can about the worm and fast. What is known so far is that WannaCry targets a vulnerability in some outdated Windows Operating Systems (OS) including Windows XP, Windows 8 and Windows Server 2003. A vulnerability was known to Microsoft with a patch being released in March this year. However systems without auto-update activated or older Windows OS were still vulnerable to the worm. Microsoft have now made a patch available to download, which can be accessed here.

Shortly after the WannaCry took hold last Friday, one UK security researcher managed to find a crucial piece of data in its code. Using this, the researcher was able to create a ‘sinkhole’ which essentially caused the malware to leave an infected system. However other researchers have since found variations of the original strain which are invulnerable to the security ‘sinkhole’ trick.

So what can you do to prevent an infection? The first thing is to update your Windows OS using the latest patched version. Next make sure you are running an antivirus on your computer or something similar and again, ensure it is updated. Lastly backup all your important files to an external hard drive or USB. Experts are urging people who become victim to WannaCry to not pay the requested ransom. They argue that paying for such crimes helps the industry grow and could result in increased and more sophisticated attacks.

Last modified on Tuesday, 16 May 2017 14:47

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